Analysis: Ulpana outpost 1st test for new coalition

Mofaz bringing Kadima into the coalition removes any threat that the government will fall over Ulpana evacuation.

Yuval Steinitz in Beit El meeting on Ulpana 370 (photo credit: Miriam Tzachi/Council of Jewish Communities in Jud)
Yuval Steinitz in Beit El meeting on Ulpana 370
(photo credit: Miriam Tzachi/Council of Jewish Communities in Jud)
The pending demolition of the Ulpana outpost in the West Bank will be an immediate test case by which one can measure the ideology of the new 94- member national unity government.
In the past month, high ranking Likud members including Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon have warned that the government could fall if it allowed the implementation of a court order to remove by July 1 five stone structures in the outpost that house 30 families.
It was always assumed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was strong enough to carry out such an evacuation.
Still, Kadima Party leader Shaul Mofaz’s decision Tuesday to join Netanyahu’s government immediately removed any threat that it would fall over Ulpana.
Politically, the prime minister is free to implement the High Court’s ruling and remain in power.
The question is – will he? Last week, under his guidance, the state asked the High Court of Justice to release it from its promise to destroy the homes, which are located on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement. It also asked the court to reopen the case against the homes. In the past the state had said that they were built on private Palestinian property. It now believes that new evidence exists that brings that designation into question.
A lower court is also in the midst of adjudicating the issue of land ownership, in a civil suit.
On Monday, the High Court rejected the state’s request and demanded that the homes be torn down by July 1.
Netanyahu has often spoken of the importance of the rule of law. No one expects him to blindly ignore the court.
But it is assumed that a lawful move, which could thwart the measure, would be for Netanyahu to bring a bill to the Knesset that would authorize outposts, including those like Ulpana constructed on land classified by the state as private Palestinian property.
In the past year, he has rejected such legislative attempts. Parliamentarians were not able to galvanize enough support to bring the matter to a vote in the plenum through a private member’s bill.
It is assumed that Netanyahu’s support would be needed for such a bill to become law.
On Monday, however, with the dissolution of the Knesset in the works, legislation was not an option.
Tuesday’s new political reality, in which the legislature remains in session, allows parliamentarians to pressure the prime minister to support such a bill.
A number of them told The Jerusalem Post that they believed he would.
At an emergency meeting in Beit El on Tuesday night, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) urged the government to find a way to save the homes.
“I, my friends in the Likud, and certainly Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will make every effort for the neighborhood, within the law, authority and justice,” Steinitz said.
“The current situation is leading to a great absurdity in terms of morality, and the government must find a way to change this situation, including changing the law,” he added.
Earlier in the day at a joint press conference with Kadima Party head Shaul Mofaz in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said the matter required some thought, and that it was important to respect the rule of law.
Until now, his preference has been to relocate outpost homes located on private Palestinian property to nearby state land. Ulpana presents a particular challenge because the homes are not modular ones or small stone structures, but rather apartment buildings, each of which houses six families.
The specter of such an evacuation evokes memories of the demolition of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip during the 2005 disengagement.
Netanyahu is often described as a right-wing leader who champions the settlers.
But in reality, he has zigzaged both left and right since taking office in March 2009.
First he swung left and in November 2009 imposed the most stringent crackdown on Jewish West Bank construction in the history of the settlement movement when he mandated a 10-month moratorium on all new construction.
Then in a rightward swing, he did more than the previous two governments to legalize unauthorized settler homes and communities. Last month, he converted three outposts into settlements. It is the first time new settlements have been authorized in over a decade.
His government has looked at legalizing a number of those unauthorized communities located on state land.
It is assumed that he is caught between the demands of the peace process, which forces him left, and those of his party, which push him right.
The frozen peace process, however, means that he has more leeway to act in support of settlements. The national unity government allows him to move against them without much political consequence.
His decision to move left or right on this issue will be a telling political move that will reflect his own philosophy when it comes to supporting settlements in Judea and Samaria.